Future Generations
7 May 2020

Giving future generations a seat at the table

Giving future generations a seat at the table
Angus Mercer


Angus Mercer

[The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Alpenglow as an organisation.]


As we all know, governments are incentivised to prioritise what is most urgent over what is most important. This will have consequences for all of us, but it is future generations – those who are yet to be born – who will pay the biggest price.

Under most political systems future generations do not have a seat at the table, even though the choices that our leaders make now have the potential to determine their future.

Wherever we look, we can see the impact of short-term decision making.

We are facing a climate crisis that threatens the future of life on our planet. The science couldn’t be clearer, but we are not adapting fast enough to this reality.

The age of artificial intelligence brings enormous promise, but also has the potential to do unforeseen, irreversible harm if the risks are not managed properly.

And as we live through the tragedy of coronavirus, we have been forced to confront the reality that we clearly are not as prepared for a global pandemic as we need to be.

There has never been a better moment for us to rethink how governments plans for the long term.

In the UK, Lord Bird’s Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill is one excellent way to bring about the change we need. If passed, the Bill would require the UK Government to:

  • Create a Future Generations Commissioner for the UK to act as a guardian for future generations;
  • Create a Joint Parliamentary Committee for the Future. This would scrutinise legislation for its effect on future generations, hold Government ministers accountable for short-term decision-making, and report on future trends;
  • Impose ‘future generations duties’ on non-devolved public bodies and UK Government Ministers; and
  • Learn from the successes of policies that have benefitted future generations.

This is exactly the sort of step we need to help our system focus on prevention, rather than simply lurch from one crisis to the next.

In the UK, we can look to inspiring examples in recent decades of governments being proactive and foresighted about the long term risks we face. The Stern Review and subsequent Climate Change Act. The Smoking Ban. The creation of independent bodies such as the Bank of England and the National Infrastructure Commission.

But at the moment, these examples are the exception, not the norm. This has to change, and the aftermath of a global pandemic will provide a rare window in which to galvanise the political will to make this happen.

We need to transform the incentives for those in government to act in the interests of future generations. This is fast becoming one of the defining challenges of our time.